Before we jump into this passage, let's check out how James starts it because it's just too cool to pass by without really looking at.
My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ...
James is reminding us that Jesus is the Shekinah of God—the manifestation or revelation of God. Jesus is God's glory. This is who our faith rests in—Jesus, THE glory of God.
Keeping that in mind, let's pick up the threads from last week. James said that we need to be in the world without being polluted or stained by it, and that we are to enter the surrounding culture but remain free from the evil to be found there. From there he dives right into an example that's as relevant today as it was centuries ago to the people he wrote to. He says the favoritism the world practices has no place in the body of Christ.
|James 2:1-13 from BibleGateway.com Click to see larger so you can read.|
There was no middle class in those days, and no social climbing. You either had money and status or you didn't. So the wealthy people sponsored many things for the poor—roads, public baths, temples, and even the city taxes. Why would they do that? For the glory and honor they received for it. When they passed people on the streets, they would be treated special and flattered by them. Plaques would be hung in prominent places and seen for years after, naming them as the generous benefactor of whatever it was. They considered displaying their wealth almost as important as having it.
Sound familiar? But I think we've taken it a step or two further. Displaying wealth, social status, power, style, beauty, talent, or intelligence—whether we genuinely have it or not, is important in our society. More than that, people are treated according to the impression they give. If they appear to have something we value, we treat them differently.
Favoritism in the world isn't pretty.
Favoritism among Christians is a pollution from the world that James says we are to stay far away from. We are to be Christ-like and Jesus, THE glory of God, the One who had every right to, did not show partiality. Not only that, but Romans 2:11 says there is NO partiality with God.
Faith and favoritism do not mix.
So how do we avoid favoritism?By looking at people through the eyes of Christ—eyes of love.
“In Jesus's birth and life, He broke down the walls between rich and poor, young and old, educated and uneducated. It is wrong for us to build those walls again; we cannot rebuild them if we believe in the grace of God.” ~Warren Wiersbe
By obeying the royal law.
If we show favoritism, we are law breakers and James doesn't mince words here. In verse 10 he says, “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” Ouch. Guilty of all? Yes. All.
The things James mentions all have something in common: the honor we treat others with. So, if we rationalize and think, “Playing favorites isn't as bad as bad as adultery or murder” we are wrong! Sin is sin. Knowing this, it should have a great impact on how we live—as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.
“The beauty of this law is that it takes seriously both law and mercy, both sin and grace. God does not excuse us from our sin, but He does forgive (Romans 1:20; 2:1). To excuse is to claim that the offending party is not in fact guilty of the offense or to deny the seriousness of the offense. To forgive grants full weight both to guilt and to its seriousness, but it nullifies the guilt.” ~David P. Nystrom
The law of liberty is not a license to do whatever we want. There is no freedom in that, only bondage. Liberty is the freedom to be all that we can be in Christ. It is the inner discipline to do the right things, not because we have to, but because we love God. If we only obey because we have to, then we are not really growing and maturing.
Obedience out of love and because we know it's right are signs of growing up. Our beliefs should control our behavior. A merciful attitude is an evidence of a person's faith.
“Christian love means treating others the way God has treated me. It is an act of the will, not an emotion that I try to manufacture. The motive is to glorify God. The means is the power of the Spirit within.” ~Warren Wiersbe
James is not saying that we can earn mercy. We can't. It's impossible for us to earn mercy. But our hearts—our attitudes determine how we are treated. If we are rebellious and refuse to repent, then God administers justice rather than mercy. Repentance leads to forgiveness and mercy...
and mercy exults victoriously over judgment.
- What does Exodus 40:34-35 say about the Shekinah of God?
- What do Leviticus 19:15, Deuteronomy 10:17, and Romans 2:11tell us about God?
- Psalm 119:45 and Matthew 18:21-35 talk about the law of liberty and about forgiveness between fellow Christians. What does it say?
- How does Matthew 25:31-40 fit with James 2:1-13?
- How does thinking about Jesus as the glory of God change how we think of His mercy?
- What are some of the different ways favoritism is shown—in the world and in the church?
- What are some practical ways we can stop the favoritism that goes on?
- How do our attitudes and actions determine the mercy we receive?
Read through James 2:14-26 several times.